Ideas to take center stage during TEDxBerkshires at Kripalu

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When investment manager and cultural anthropology major Ethan Berg moved to the Berkshires over a decade ago, he brought with him more than his wife, Jamie, and soon-to-be-born child.

He also brought an insatiable curiosity for ideas, honed by attending TED conferences and other "ideas fests" large and small across the United States and beyond.

On Monday, Berg will offer some of these ideas at TEDxBerkshires, an independent daylong program of speakers and videos which he co-founded and organizes with his wife to be hosted for the second year by the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge.

The format is based on and licensed by the acclaimed annual weeklong TED conferences. Founded in 1984 and now held in Vancouver, Canada, they attract speakers such as President Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Bono. Talks often on a central theme last no more than 18 minutes, and videos of them are posted online and viewed free of charge, sometimes by massive audiences around the world.

TEDxBerkshires grew from a conversation between Berg and fellow ideas aficionado, Canyon Ranch medical director Mark Liponis.

"One of us said, why isn't this happening here in the Berkshires?" he said recently over coffee and macaroons in Lenox. "We have so many talented, energetic and interested people both in terms of presenters and audience members."

The format keeps people's attention and requires speakers to get precise about their thinking, he said. It also promotes a cross-pollination of ideas due to the variety of speakers, which in years past have included multiple Moth champion Matthew Dicks and Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Monday's program on the theme of "The Good Life" includes 10 live talks on topics ranging from an upbeat look at climate change to what it means to be an American.

Constitutional law professor Kermit Roosevelt — great, great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt — will look at "Myth America," who we are as individuals and a nation and how we can shape the character of America and be a more united country.

"He wrote a novel about the internment of the Japanese in World War II," Berg said. "We're excited to have him this year because we're now in a country that seems to be demonizing the other, and he has an incredibly unique perspective."

Tracy Seckler will talk about how her teenage son Charley manages to maintain an upbeat outlook despite his devastating diagnosis of Duchenne muscular dystrophy a decade ago; and her dedication to funding research into a cure.

New York Times columnist David Gelles will discuss how meditation is changing the world of business; and intellectual property attorney Giovanna Fessenden will demystify the fundamental financial internet and Bitcoin technology, the blockchain.

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As storytelling is the essence of TED Talks, Berg said, award-winner Judith Black will focus her talents on climate disruption; New York Times best-selling authors and former Harvard philosophy classmates Daniel Klein and Thomas Cathcart will delve into the deep cultural wisdom of jokes; and international mixed martial arts ring announcer Mike Markham will describe his determined path to his dream job.

Also on the local side, Lenox Pastor Michael Tuck explores narrative spirituality, state Sen. Benjamin Downing pens what Berg describes as "a love letter to the Berkshires," and recent high school graduate Jacob Robbins shares his optimism in times of great division and hardship.

"They're people with something real to say," Berg said, "and it's highly engaging and fun, and stimulating and uplifting. It brings people together."

With some 800 programs from yoga to birding in Kripalu's catalog, hosting outside conferences supporting its mission of empowering people and communities is a new venture for the famed yoga center. "We ran the [TEDxBerkshires] pilot last year," said vice president of strategy and growth Jill Bauman, "and everything went well."

Kripalu provides participants with a nutritious, natural lunch "to nourish body and spirit," Bauman said, as well as a yoga or meditation class, all included in the conference price of $45 in advance and $50 at the door.

"Last year it was a real community event, with mostly local people plus a few Kripalu guests on R&R," Bauman said. "Half the participants went to the yoga and meditation classes."

TEDxBerkshires "is a wonderful fusion of nationally recognized experts in the field and local people who are equally remarkable," Berg said. "Hopefully we create a compelling, interesting and provocative day for people."

If you go ...

What: TEDxBerkshires: "The Good Life"

When: 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Kripalu, 57 Interlaken Road (Route 183), Stockbridge

Cost: $45 online in advance, $50 at the door. Includes lunch and yoga or meditation class

Tickets and information:


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